Aunt Marty’s phone calls were a source of frustration to my sister Lindy and me. The entire time that she worked at Alcoa Aluminum on the switchboard, she would call and most of the time would be spent with her saying, “Hold on” and one of us listening to dead air. My sister and I still do a great job of imitating her by saying, “Hold on” and then “I’m back.”
After she retired, the Aunt Marty phone calls still took a lot of time, only now the 45 minutes was spent listening to her brag about herself, her children, and of course, her grandchildren. She would begin by delighting you with the funny things she had said to her doctor, the policeman, and once to a male stripper. Then she would add, in case you hadn’t recognized it, the information that all of these people found her funny and interesting and delightful. It got tiring listening to her go on and on.
When our mother died, Aunt Marty’s response was:
Well, she didn’t make it to ninety.
That was followed up by
Uncle Bob is in worse shape than Mary.
even though the uncle in question was not yet dead and our mother was.
That was why I was not one bit disappointed when my sister wrote to Aunt Marty and asked her to stop the gifts for birthdays and Christmas. My sister’s thinking was that if Aunt Marty couldn’t even send her own sister a card or letter, then we didn’t want her gifts. I also think that Aunt Marty’s choice of gifts may have played a part in my sister’s thinking. You see, Aunt Marty always purchased her gifts at something called a “re-sale shop.” Yes, all of her gifts were more than slightly used.
Apparently, Aunt Marty took offense at the ending of the gifts. You would have too since the items we sent her were new and lovely and sometimes expensive in contrast to the used junk she sent us. Anyway, we didn’t hear from her for many, many months and we were both enjoying the lack of contact when she called me.
There was just a little bit of the “Hi, how are you?’ and then she launched into the purpose of her call.
Uncle Bob died.
she said. Followed by:
I think it was about a week ago.
You think it was about a week ago? That your brother died? This was even further from normal.
I asked if she had gone out to Washington state where he was living, but she said no. She wanted to remember him the way he was the last time she saw him two years ago. For me, the last memory of Uncle Bob was when we had my mother’s 80th birthday party. I will never forget him running through the breakfast area of the hotel with a plunger and yelling:
I plugged up the toilet. I’ll be right back.
I asked Aunt Marty about the arrangements but she didn’t know anything. I also asked about sending a card and she gave me the address for one of Uncle Bob’s daughters. My mother had one sister and one brother, and it bothers me that they don’t seem able to appropriately grieve for one another. I guess this is just another consequence of growing up “Far From Normal.”